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Child neglect in infancy and early childhood : Towards a definition of the problem


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Fitzpatrick, AM 2013 , 'Child neglect in infancy and early childhood : Towards a definition of the problem', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Child neglect is the most commonly referred and re-referred form of maltreatment
reported to child protection services in Australia, with the number of notifications
continuing to grow despite the implementation of new legislation, policies and systems
for protecting children over the last decade. Infants and toddlers under four years of age
are the most vulnerable and most likely to suffer the devastating consequences of
neglect. The early years are a critical period in terms of neuronal development in the
brain, and the stage-salient processes involved in children’s immediate and ongoing
psychological and physical development. It is also the period during which they are at
increased risk of serious injury and fatality. Yet the unique nature of neglect in this age
group continues to be inadequately responded to both in practice and in research.
This thesis draws attention to the urgent need for a broad and concise, child-centred and
needs-based definition of neglect that focuses specifically on this highly vulnerable age
group. Improved understandings of and responses to child neglect have been held back
by the lack of agreement about what constitutes neglect, and how best to define and
measure it. While some progress has been made towards a conceptual definition of
neglect in early childhood, research is needed to advance the development of a
definition that is both conceptually sound and operational.
The primary and concomitant aims of the research were to gain a better understanding
of the nature of neglect in infancy and early childhood and to further the development of
a conceptual and operational definition of the problem. The second aim of the project
was to establish reliable statistical data relating to the notification rate and the pattern of
referral for infants (<48 months) in an Australian context. The research involved two
distinct studies – 1) an investigation of notified cases of neglect and abuse relating to
children under 48 months of age in two rural and urban regions in Tasmania, and 2) an
in-depth exploration of the nature of neglect in a child protection sample of infants (<
48 months) from one group of families in which a subject infant had died, and (19)
infants from another group of families in which a subject child had suffered various
forms of neglect-related harm. The main contribution of this research has been the development of a system for
identifying and measuring the sub-types of neglect that are unique to infancy and early
childhood. The classification system provides a unified, child-centred operational
definition, with each sub-type founded on empirically based constructs of need. The
need constructs served to both identify the particular sub-type of neglect and/or unmet
need being notified and provide more useful and appropriate frequency measures, which
are aggregated to measure levels of severity and chronicity, and or to assess levels of
(accumulated) risk. The research has also helped to clarify the nature of the neglect
experience for this age group; particularly in cases in which a death or serious harm has
occurred. It has demonstrated the need for broad and concise operational definitions of
early childhood neglect which can readily identify the unmet needs of vulnerable
children in practice and classify and measure the different sub-types of neglect for

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Fitzpatrick, AM
Keywords: child neglect,infant neglect, definition, child protection
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